Tuesday, July 29, 2014

From comment to post, July 2014

"Seriously though? I freaking love your blog!!!! Always a good source of the realities of life, humor and information......................I know all too well about being one of few women of color and also the surface support that we sometimes receive from people. You know the kind,  where words are encouraging but actions are not. People giving you the side eye when you are successful in an area where they underestimated you.............
..............................Ive been stressing myself out about the whole med school process. It is taking so long  for me to get there it feels as if its never ending. The journey is always easier when it feels as if there are others traveling with you. Thank you for posting so consistently and so honestly."

So I recently received  an email from a reader which makes up this month's "From comment to post" post, redundancy noted. :). Okay, it's not really a comment per se, but I thought I put it out there anyway. I sincerely hope the person who sent it, doesn't mind me sharing, because I think it's good to share these kinds of perspectives especially given that the numbers of URMs pursuing STEM and medical fields is shrinking. YIKES!!!!

That said,  I've thought about that "surface support" comment a LOT especially as I consider my current academic department and doing so, reminds me of my first college experience. I matriculated at a southern university with a still dismal record of producing URM STEM graduates, but that year they admitted a record number of Black students. Not long afterwards, they "dumped us" and left us to our own devices to "survive". Now in their defense, I did not seek the support I needed like I should have. However, that's where the diversity office at this school should have stepped in. You see the one thing I noticed about my clients who are mostly Asian/Indian is that both the parents AND grandparents are ALL up in their kids academic business. ALL. UP. IN. 'DERE, and stay there until their kids finish college. So it's not a surprise that kids from these families excel academically. But for folks who come from families where there's very little support for whatever reason, those folks need help. 

Movin' on, I've tentatively decided on an MCAT test date for next year, April 17, 2015 and I say tentative because I have no idea how "mad" the rush is going to be to sign up for this first test date. I also added a ticker tape to my blog and the character I choose is a kid with a baseball bat. I choose this icon because my plan is to ""knock the MCAT out of the park", hence the baseball metaphor!!!

Well, I'm going to end this post with this song by TLC, because when it comes to pursuing the MD/DO, PhD, or MD/PhD, you really need your friends to make it through!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

I know why the caged bird sings July 2014 - Part 2

So I was contacted by a member of a organization of minority students at my school about attending their meetings to see what they're all about and possibly join their organization. And as I've mentioned too many times to count, support especially as an underrepresented minority student is absolutely critical for academic and professional success. I didn't attend the meeting which was held last week but this coming school year, I'm definitely planning to see what they're all about.

This of course, has me thinking about my options for the PhD and where my best options for support are. What I do know is that I don't have enough support where I am now however, I need to do more research before deciding on a definitive program. And that brings me to my fall schedule, I have NO IDEA which classes I should enroll in although I'm pretty sure that I won't be in my current department a year from now, so that's easy. Combined with the invite to an organization that is already in place to support minority students earning PhD's in the basic sciences, it would seem to be a no brainer for me to enroll in at least one course in the basic sciences department.

Right now, I'm feeling like public health won't have enough "science" to keep my interest besides the fact that's the reason I got out of the field in the first place. But translational medicine (a basic science course of study at my school), with it's clinically relevant coursework/rotation requirements, sounds like it could be a great match for me. Other pluses include the opportunity to choose the cancer track with a translational informatics flavor, the already joint program with the MD/PhD program, and my established relationship with a few of the faculty in this area means that this could be a good fit.

As my recent posts indicate, I'm doing a lot of thinking, meeting/talking with people, and analysing of my situation so as to stay on my target date of the Fall of 2016 to matriculate into an MD/PhD program. Luckily, the work I've already done/am doing, counts toward my elective credits and toward one of the 3 required rotation requirements, so that's especially good because it means I haven't wasted any time.

I also realized that I really missed having NO clinical contact with patients this summer, so I've registered to be a volunteer at another county hospital in the area. The one previous county hospital where I shadowed a Doc was great but it's really far away from where I live/attend school so volunteering there would be kinda difficult given my fall work/class schedule. But there is a county hospital within walking distance (who knew?) from where I'll be taking classes this fall, so I'm hoping a get a volunteer spot there. If all else fails, all of the Docs I shadowed for my class this spring told me I could come back if I wanted to and since I'll be attending class/working in essentially the same general area, that's obviously a great option that happens to be super convenient too.

I've often likened my research career/path to being a LOT having to make a way out of no way, or as my late grandmother would say, "if folks won't let you in through the front door, crawl in through a window. If that doesn't work, dig a tunnel."

When it comes to the field of Biomedical informatics and the fact that based on my observations, over 80% of the folks in the field are Asian, I guess you could say that I'm in the "tunnel digging" phase in my career again. And that's nothing new. But what I will NOT do is allow this fact to discourage me from a field that I'm an absolute superstar in. I'll simply have to find creative ways of getting my professional needs met while dealing with the fact that for as long as I've pursued higher education, I've NEVER "fit in" and probably NEVER will. I simply need to focus more on the fact that there ARE people in my life who want to see me succeed and be open to that fact that I may need to go back into a lab setting to achieve my ultimate academic/career goals.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Get your a** to med school!!!

                                         *Image credit from the movie total recall

So this picture pretty accurately describes how I was feeling today (pain wise) after I left a group meeting upon the realization that for the upteenth time, I was being asked to essentially leave details of what I alone have created/discovered for my replacement to use. And that will happen the day after hell freezes over, I will NOT once again have something I busted my ass on be given to someone else, who will then take credit! HELLZ NAW!!! And waiting to see if my name is eventually added to the paper? Yeah, I'm still waiting from 20 years ago.

Needless to say that after I removed the thing from my nose...... errrrrr......... I mean left the meeting, I went with tears welling up in my eyes to see my grandpa advisor.

And after I'd talked about 30 seconds, he interrupted me and told me to "Get yourself in med school ASAP!!!!" Now the first thing that came to my mind was the following scene from the movie Total Recall:

ROTFL!!! And I dunno know, I ALWAYS try to find some humor in my not so humorous situations. So knowing how old I am, my advisor also told me that he thinks I have essentially NO chance at being admitted to a school in Texas because of my age and suggested I go the Caribbean route. His Family Practitioner had attended one of the big 4 med schools in the 2000's and had done a residency in Family Medicine at one of the top programs in Texas. Then he mentioned that his wife sat on the adcom of a Texas school and that that was where his info was coming from. My response was that with all the new med schools, residency seats will be limited in the future, then he responded "Not in Family Medicine, kids these days are going after the money, so there's ALWAYS going to be FM spots that go unfilled. Especially in Texas." Then he asked me to promise him that I would look into the school his Doc attended when I got back to my desk, and I did. I also chat online with them too for "information gathering purposes".

Now with all that said, I'm NOT changing from my current plan........at least, I don't think I am.............Hmmmmmmmm.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Count your blessings July 2014

In a world where evil seems to be "winning", it's important to reflect not on how screwed up things are, but on the MUCH larger list of what's going right in the world and in our lives!

So I thought it would be a great idea for me to on a regular basis, share with my readers all the ways my life is thoroughly blessed, with the idea that we ALL have many blessings in our lives, even when it doesn't appear that way!!!

Here are few for today:

1) I'm so blessed to have in my life MANY people who encourage me and support my educational and professional goals.

2) I have a kid that has made me proud beyond words.

3) I have loving family and friends.

4) I have my health, and my weight and blood pressure are looking good!!

5) On that note, the average 30 something ain't got s**t on me!! #blackdontcrack

6) I attend one of the top schools in the nation and I've got a 4.0 GPA at this school.

7) My mind is the sharpest it's EVER been!!

8) I work with the nicest wife/husband team with the cutest baby EVER!!!!

I always try to end my posts with a song that reflects the message of my post, but today I'd like to do something different. I don't know who needs the message in this song, but this song is for you!!!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Go where you "fit in".

I rarely speak of my career in terms of regret but when I think about how DESPERATELY I want to be in a more "people" oriented phase of my career right now, I come VERY close to feeling exactly that, HUGE regret. I spent most of the weekend thinking about how to satisfy this insatiable urge to not only be around people, but work with "people people" too. Then I realized that with the summer coming to a close soon, I hadn't spent ONE DAY at the county hospital as I had originally planned because I was so busy busting my ass for what worked out to be a short term research rotation. BAD IDEA.

Ironically earlier yesterday, one of my sista' mentors (with a PhD) sent me an email out of the blue where she said that she thought I needed to move to another research group. She knew of the "social dynamic" of my group with me being the only American and native English speaker. But I hadn't told her the details about everything that was going down since May. So it was nice to hear from her because I had planned to call her later in the day anyway. And like I mentioned earlier, I'd been thinking ALL WEEKEND about how much I longed to be in a more "people type" program around more "people" type people.

She also told me that in her opinion, it was a terrible idea for me to try to create a joint partnership between my current department and the med school, and she said that before I shared with her the info I was getting about why a partnership between the two wasn't already in place. Even more ironic was her telling me that she thought my personality was better suited for research in public health because of the possibility to work on projects with patients. More importantly, I could have the opportunity to conduct research with people I have more in common with because EVERY grad student knows that camaraderie with your peers is a MUST for survival. So with the knowledge that there is already a partnership between the school of public health and the med school, I've decided to meet with some folks in this area to gather some info before I register for my classes this Fall.

Now in terms of my interest in Informatics, there are two different directions I can go as far as the med school is concerned, Public Health or Basic Science. And that's it for established programs with an Informatics option. So given that I have ~ 15 credits toward an MPH already on my lengthy transcripts, that's the direction I'm leaning in today, emphasis on leaning. I need to FIRST figure out what department/division is a good "fit" for me by meeting with a few professors (I already have a few meetings set up with Public Health folks because they have research assistantships available to students from my current department), attending some seminars, and talking to a few students. Basically, I'm LONG over due with getting in where I fit in!!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

I know why the caged bird sings July 2014

                                            * Image credit wazoow.com

Over the years I've blogged and been actively involved in research positions, I've also thought about a category of blog posts which would address why I think URMs rarely stay in research careers/settings after earning a PhD. So in light of the dynamic of my current research group, I decided to start with a series of posts which will talk about the numerous challenges me and other URMs face in research and research like settings.

I chose the title of this series "I know why the caged birds sings" based loosely on the book by Maya Angelou (RIP) because it speaks to the things URMs often do to survive the often less than hospitable working environments in research settings.

So I begin with a list of what I've learned in my research position this summer:

1) Never work for an investigator that allows a member of the team to regularly insult you.

2) Never work in group where you're the only US born member of the team.

3) Never work on a project more than your paid for when #1 on the list is at play.

4) Don't ever expect anyone to support your professional goals until they have proven over time to support your professional goals.

5) Don't believe anything a PI tells you until you've known them at least 6 months and they've demonstrated an ability to be honest with other faculty and more importantly, other students.

6) And never EVER work for a PI that has publicly disparaged your department.

Looking over this list it would seem obvious that I should have recognized early on that I was not with the right group, but I always fool myself into thinking that if I outwork everyone around me and really know my stuff, I can overcome any obstacle put before me. And while having a very strong work ethic and knowledge base will eventually prove to be the right thing to do, it won't always work in certain settings, a lesson I should have learn after my stint in death pharma.

So I met with my other advisor yesterday and like my grandpa advisor, it's what she didn't say proved to be more telling that what she did say. She also mentioned me officially transitioning to the PhD program in the Spring of 2015. But given what I'm observing in my department now and the knowledge that I can do the exact same thing at another department of my university which is already in a joint partnership with the MD/PhD program, I'm just not sure any more that I'm in the best department for me. Yes, I'm still VERY committed to a PhD in Translational Informatics, I'm just not so sure staying in the department I'm in now will get me to that goal. But I thank God I've been blessed with other options. :)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The well is dry, and now you're thirsty?

How someone could think that the 10 years it took me to fine tune my expertise in Chemistry/Biochemistry/Pharmacology could be gained by a barely English speaking computer scientist in 2 weeks, I'll NEVER know. But what I learned last week is that the "sassy" female (of course) Assist. prof my group works with, thought exactly that. Really? NO REALLY??? Yeah, really!

There are some aspects of my current position which I purposely choose not to talk about on my blog because I didn't want too much "negativity" in print. But it turns out that sassy prof tried to convinced my PI that another member of my group could do the work I was brought on to do, as well as I to do it, while our PI was out of town for a couple weeks. Of course, when the guy fell so flat on his face during his presentation on Friday that he left a dent on the floor, my value to the group and her idiotic thinking, came to light. So after he failed to explain all the nuances of the chemistry involved in the project, our PI asked if I could do it with NO NOTICE. And why was I able to do this with NO problem? I'm ALWAYS prepared for this kinda thing because I seem to ALWAYS be in these situations. So to say that my presentation was a slam dunk is an understatement, my PI and the other members of my group, were quite pleased and praised my hard work. And yeah, I "keeps me" a presentation on "standby" of whatever I'm working on as this is part of my "Research for a Minority 101" of things that must be done to do stay "winning" in the research game!

Of course, none of what happened was a surprise to me given that sassy prof grilled me thoroughly during the interview and made the comment: "If this task is taking you so long, why should we hire you?". Now the fact was that if she had a better command of the English language, I would have better understood what she wanted me to do during the interview. And being the professional I am I didn't say that (although I wanted to), but I did respond with this:  "Well, you need to hire me because I'm the only one here with both the education and expertise in Pharmacology and Chemistry to support your research". 

Now with that type of an "introduction" to the group, I haven't been surprised that she's far from being my biggest fan. And this type of thing has been "par for the course" in my research career since forever, so it barely bothers me anymore. Fittingly, her thinking that my knowledge/expertise could be gained in 2 weeks, resulted in our PI not only getting into her arse after the meeting, but also into the poor guy who was assigned one of my tasks during the meeting after his presentation. And to think sassy prof had said to me at a meeting earlier in the week, in front of the ENTIRE group: "I  don't think we need you anymore", only to get her a$$ handed to her at weeks end, LOL!!!!

It's clear now that my PI realizes my value to the group, so I have some decisions to make, although the decision of NOT getting a PhD with this group is already made, it ain't gonna happen!!! The thing is that I really like what I'm doing/learning and I also wanted to present at national meetings this fall and next spring. Obviously if I change groups now, the fall meeting is likely out of the question, and possibly the spring one as well. So at this time, I'm not sure what I'm going to do, but I will definitely be praying real hard about my next move before I make it.

So after my group meeting on Friday, I went to talk to my "main" graduate advisor, who is more like a grandfather to me in the years we've communicated both before I joined the department and since my matriculation. And after telling him the details of my experience (I hadn't mentioned anything until Friday), he gave me a LONG list of potential PI's he knows with slots available this Fall, including a few at one of the top 10 Universitys in the US. He then advised me to do some homework looking at all my options before making a decision. We also discussed my "timeline" for the MD/PhD and so far I'm right on schedule!!! And in a rather rare occurrence in my career, I can tell that not only is he very supportive of me, but immensely proud as well. And that kinda of support is worth it's weight in gold!! :)

Now I know this song by Fantasia is about her former relationship with that woman's husband, but I think my current group situation is apropos as well, ROTFL!!!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


So it looks like I have some great options where my research is concerned and I've realized once again, that PI support much more than project interest, should be driving my PhD goals. Normally, students complete 3 rotations before deciding on a group, so I'm chalking this up to completing my first rotation, and keeping things moving.

A HUGE part of keeping things moving is going to be looking at ALL my options for my dissertation project. Including completing it at a major gov't agency through a joint program my school has with said agency. The big advantage to that would be that I would be paid at a higher rate because of the time I already have with the gov't. But that would also require a relo back to the East coast. Hmmmmmmm.

Other news is that I'm finally starting to get back to normal where my shoulder is concerned. And that's big because I'm still trying to get caught up in my classes. Speaking of that, it's been pretty cool to reflect on how much I feel like I've "grown" careerwise, learning more about clinical care than I ever thought I would outside of being a medical student/resident/physician. And what's really nice is that the work is just so darn interesting and necessary if the goal of improving health for everyone is going to met. I still have my SES based doubts about how "everyone" is going to benefit, but it is nice to know that what I'm learning/doing now is going to make me that much better of a Clinician. :)

Today, I'm leaving you with one of my all time favoriite gospel records. I especially like the line "God's gonna work it out, you gettin' ready to smile":

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

When beating the computer is not enough.........

While I'm still LOVIN' my life here in hot a$$ Texas, I'm NOT loving this PhD track I'm currently on. Yeah I get it, doctoral level work is typically no joke, but damn. THIS?!?!? AGAIN?!?!?

So, I get an assignment which extensively uses my background in Chemistry/Pharmacology and that is also the very first time I've applied my knowledge in this way. I complete the assignment with 93% accuracy/precision besting the computer algorithm they developed to do the same thing by 13% and a PhD in my group by 23%. Yet, that's STILL NOT good enough to warrant an extension of my research assistantship for the remainder of the school year. DAMN!!!

What happened? Well, once they had the knowledge they needed to improve their algorithm (which came from ME), it was decided that I wouldn't be needed past mid-August. So all that talk about my getting a PhD with this group as was discussed in my interview for this gig, went right out the window! Double DAMN!!!

I'd LOVE to say that this kinda thing is "new" to me or that I haven't observed it at other points in my career. But the fact is it's NOT. And this turns out to be the MAJOR reason why I don't advise ANYONE who wants a research career to get a PhD alone. Absolutely NOT!!

Movin' on, I've decided to take the new MCAT for a couple reasons not the least of which is that my old score expires this year and I tutor students taking the MCAT. So I'd need to be up to date on the new info anyway. What da' heck, I actually like the MCAT now having figured out how the darn thing works, LOL!!!